My Car Quest

July 24, 2017

Random Memories Of Mike Hailwood And His Iso Grifo In South Africa

by Andre Loubser

Firstly a somewhat circuitous route as to how I became involved with Mike Hailwood. In 1962, aged 22, I left Cape Town to join the export/sales division of the Porsche factory. A year later, much to my surprise, I was asked to head up the VIP direct factory sales department.

Stirling Moss and a Porsche 904

In November 1963 I received an order from Stirling Moss for a Porsche 904 for his racing team, the Stirling Moss Automobile Racing Team (SMART) that he founded after his near fatal accident at Goodwood the year before. I spent Christmas of that year in Hendon with an English colleague and took the opportunity to meet up with Stirling to finalise the deal.

The last time I called on him was in February 2012 – same house, same desk! He told me that his three mechanics were South Africans, brothers Ed and Bud Rossler and Piet van Asperen. From the beginning of 1964 I monitored the build of the 904 on a daily basis until I delivered it to Ed and Piet in February 1964.

Mike Hailwood and his Iso Grifo

Mike Hailwood and his Iso Grifo

The Stirling Moss Paint-a-Car System

As I wanted to get into motor racing rather than build a long term career at Porsche and having established a good working relationship with Moss I resigned at the end of May 1964 and moved to London. Stirling had endorsed the Stirling Moss Paint-a-Car System, founded by a Canadian and his American partner.

The company sold respray and light body repair centres throughout the UK on a franchise basis. Stirling offered me a job in the company that had already set up ten centres and I assisted with the setting up of a further nine and one each in Brussels and Paris.

In 1965 I met Gill who worked for Rootes in Devonshire House, Green Park, and we were married in December 1966. Towards the latter half of 1968 I found myself in a quandary. I told Gill that in my humble opinion Harold Wilson and his merry men were going to run the UK into the ground with their unrealistic policies, economic and other, and by the same token the Apartheid system back home was in for a big hiding.

We gave it serious thought and decided to give South Africa a go. When I told Stirling that the Paint-a-Car concept had great potential in South Africa he got excited and suggested that we do something together. However, he phoned me the next day to tell me that his Paint-a-Car associates had him tied up worldwide. As Stirling had problems with them we couldn’t do a deal and he wished me well.

The Mike Hailwood Autospray System and The Green Man Pub

I had in the meantime met Mike and as he had previously raced in South Africa and owned a house in Westville near Durban he was the ideal candidate. In November 1968 we struck a deal in The Green Man Pub at the top of Putney Hill and the Mike Hailwood Autospray System was effectively born.

Mike Hailwood

A company by the name of British Domolac in Woolwich manufactured the quick drying acrylic for Paint-a-Car. I wanted to talk to them about either supplying paint or entering into an under-license deal with a South African paint manufacturer yet to be discovered.

I suggested to Mike that as we plan to be in the car painting business together he might as well see how paint is manufactured. We drove to Woolwich in the Iso and en route we caught up with a bobby on a Velocette LE (noddy bike). Mike stuck the nose of the Iso to within inches of the bike’s rear number plate roaring with laughter all the way.

The bobby kept his cool and pretended he didn’t notice. In the photo below the rear of the Iso can just be seen in the factory yard.

Mike Hailwood and Iso Grifo

Mike Hailwood (on the right) and Iso Grifo

Mike Hailwood

Mike Hailwood

Move to South Africa

We left the UK at the end of November for Johannesburg and at about the same time Mike shipped the Iso Grifo to Durban. In January 1969 I founded Autospray with a financial partner in central Johannesburg and within three years seventeen centres and seven affiliated companies were set up across South Africa.

Mike was a non executive director. Autospray was the world pioneer of polyurethane automotive paint.

Later in January 1969 I went to Durban to take photos of Mike for the Autospray brochure. He was sharing a house with Frank Perris a former Suzuki works rider.

Mike Hailwood

Mike Hailwood on the right and Frank Perris

Mike Hailwood and his Iso Grifo

Mike Hailwood and his Iso Grifo

We soon dropped the 24 hour slogan. When we painted new company vans and pick-ups in corporate colours 24 hours not a problem but most cars had dings and dents that took a little longer to repair. Consequently it became “respray and body repair specialists”.

From 1966 to 1973 South Africa staged the Springbok Series for sports and saloon cars, with the Kyalami Nine Hour being the main event. Other three hour races were at Killarney in Cape Town, Lourenco Marques, Roy Hesketh in Pietermaritzburg and Bulawayo in the then Rhodesia. From 1970 Welkom in the Orange Free State was included.

Several road trips in the Iso Grifo

For the 1969 season Mike had planned to drive to all these races in the Iso Grifo. The 1969 Nine Hour was held on November 8 with Mike sharing a Ford GT40 Mirage with Peter Gethin. They retired with mechanical problems.

They drove to Cape Town from Johannesburg, a distance of about 900 miles, for the Cape Three Hours held on November 22, with the car retiring again with mechanical problems.

At the time we were setting up Autospray Bloemfontein (300 miles south of Johannesburg) and at about 11:00AM on Wednesday November 26 I set off for Bloemfontein with the company Hillman Hunter estate loaded with equipment and materials. As I passed through Parys about seventy miles south of Johannesburg the heavens opened up.

Parys is the Afrikaans name for Paris and the person who named this one horse town in the Orange Free State after the famous French city must have had a wild imagination or a perverse sense of humour! On the outskirts to the south of the town the rain was so heavy with visibility down to virtually zero that I stopped under some large blue gum trees.

The storm lasted for about 15 minutes and suddenly cleared which is typical of that region including the Johannesburg area. I had literally got going when I saw a yellow speck in the distance. It was the Iso Grifo traveling at about 100 mph trailing a huge plume of spray.

Magnificent sight it was! The Autospray corporate colour for our vehicles and the racing cars we sponsored was a bright emerald green that I chose to make a statement in an era of conservative colours. Mike recognised the estate and we flashed lights at each other.

The Mike Hailwood Iso Grifo crash

The exit from Parys heading north was through a left hand bend that straightened out and headed over a blind rise just after the speed de-restriction sign. On the open roads there was no speed limit at the time which made driving in South Africa a pleasure. In April 1971 the 120 km/h limit was introduced. Mike no doubt went flying over the rise but unfortunately there were three cows in the road.

Mike hit the one in the middle and as the photo below shows it slid over the bonnet and tore the roof off.

Mike Hailwood's crashed Iso Grifo

Mike Hailwood’s Crashed Iso Grifo

Fortunately the poor animal was killed instantly. There was an experimental animal farm on the left and it transpired that some half-wit had left the gate open. Mike and Peter were lucky to have escaped with minor glass cuts across their foreheads.

Both claimed that they survived because they weren’t wearing their seat belts and were able to duck. Had I left Johannesburg about 20 minutes later I would have arrived on the scene of the accident. Now that would have been a million to one coincidence! There was a report that Mike hit a water buffalo.

Water buffalo don’t as rule walk on South African roads but there could be a chance of colliding with one in the Kruger National Park but given the low speed limits a dented fender could be the worst damage but highly unlikely!

On the Friday I went to Parys to arrange for the wreck to be railed to our head office workshop – that’s when I took the photos. When the Grifo arrived during the following week an insurance assessor said “write off”. Our foreman, Tony dos Santos, and I had a close look at the car and believed that it could be rebuilt over a lengthy period of time.

Reviving the crashed Iso Grifo

I told Mike that we would be happy to have a go providing there was no time limit. I told Tony to work on the Grifo in between other jobs and when he had some spare time. I ordered a bonnet, a roof panel, fenders, a windscreen and other parts from Iso and these we air freighted. The windscreen was so badly packed that it arrived cracked.

Letter from Mike Hailwood

Letter from Mike Hailwood to Andre Loubser

The Iso had the strongest and thickest body of any car I have ever known. In fact it could have done justice to the hull of a battleship, no doubt a major contributing factor to Mike and Peter having survived the huge impact.

The car was finally completed in February 1972 and it was of course resprayed in Autospray polyurethane. Once it left our works I lost all contact with the car until someone based in Germany discovered that I knew all about the Iso Grifo that he bought in 2009 I believe.

I gave him all the relevant info and photos after which he went off the radar screen. Only recently did I hear that Coys had auctioned the restored car in 2011.

On My Car Quest there is a report with photos of what was allegedly Mike’s Iso Grifo but with wire wheels.

Mike’s car, as shown in some of the photos, did not have wire wheels. I’m sure that the owner who wanted the car as close to the original surely wouldn’t have fitted wire wheels?

Two humorous anecdotes about the Iso. Mike used to do the Johannesburg to Cape Town trip in about ten and a half hours at an average speed of 85 mph. Once traveling north to Johannesburg he passed through the Karoo town of Beaufort West some 300 miles from Cape Town.

As he left the town and hit the open road he noticed a black limo with some people standing around it including a man wearing a suit with a gold chain around his neck. Ah, the major thought Mike. He also noticed some police cars and a few police officers. Then he noticed two parallel black lines across the road. Quickly he assimilated the scene and realised it was the launch of the town’s Gatsometer.

He slowed, hooked second gear, got wheelspin and as he looked in the rear view mirror he saw the severed lines arcing through the air. Laughed his head off no doubt!

In February 2012 I met up with Jim Redman during the David Piper classic series at Killarney. We went down memory lane about the wonderful 1960s and the Honda sixes and at one point I mentioned the Grifo. Mike had a flat at Heston in Middlesex and Jim said he once accompanied Mike on a trip to central London along the Great West Road as I recall.

It was a warm sunny day and it was slow moving nose to tail traffic on both sides of the dual carriageway. At one point two pretty Asian girls wearing mini skirts crossed in front of the Iso and paused on the central reservation. As Mike inched forward one the girls stood right next to the Grifo. Mike stuck his hand out and held it under the girl’s mini skirt without touching her. At that point a police car was inching forward in the west bound lane and stopped opposite the Iso.

The policeman witnessed the incident and said, “No Mike, no, no!” The price of fame! Other stories about Mike are classified information!

The stunningly beautiful niece

When I arrived in London in mid-1964, Hugh Dibley, a BOAC first officer at the time owned 18 Queen’s Gate Mews. He had a large garage where he kept his Brabham BT8 sports racing car that he entered under the SMART banner.

Ed, Bud and Piet maintained the car. It was a wonderful enclave with Coys and the Queen’s Arms part of the furniture. Comedian, Terry Thomas, who owned a blue Jaguar XK150 lived a few doors up from Coys. From time to time when the guys revved the Climax engine for half of London to hear a Russian lady who lived around the corner would arrive to complain and every time she would drag along her stunningly beautiful niece.

The South African mechanics, no, the handsome pilot methinks yes!! Happy memories of the Swinging Sixties!

As they say in legal circles I rest my case.

The Mike Hailwood fatal accident

By an eerie coincidence the damage to Mike’s Rover 3500 in which he and his daughter were fatally injured in March 1981 was virtually identical to that of the Iso Grifo with head lights intact and the roof peeled off and twisted towards the left rear.

Mike Hailwood accident

Newspaper account of the Mike Hailwood fatal accident

All images provided by Andre Loubser.

Share your thoughts in the Comments.

Andre Loubser

Andre Loubser worked in the export/sales department of the Porsche factory in Stuttgart from 1962 to 1964 and was closely involved with the Porsche 904 racing sports car project. Then four years in the UK with the Stirling Moss Paint-a-Car System, one year on the development of the Enfield Electric car in Wimbledon.

He returned to South Africa and co-founded the Mike Hailwood Autospray System in Johannesburg in early 1969. Eventually he returned to Cape Town and has since been mainly involved in the motor trade and specialist sport car manufacturing industry as well as his design company, specialising in “New Concepts, Designs and Products for Commerce and Industry”.

He also has written books about motor car racing, including – South African Motor Racing – The Early Years.

Sell your classic car on My Car Quest – click here.

Mike Hailwood Iso Grifo

The Mike Hailwood Iso Grifo as auctioned by Coys in 2011 (photo by Coys)

Summary
Random Memories Of Mike Hailwood And His Iso Grifo In South Africa
Article Name
Random Memories Of Mike Hailwood And His Iso Grifo In South Africa
Description
Mike Hailwood was a great motorcycle racer but also a wild driver on the street and he especially loved his Iso Grifo cars.
Author

Comments

  1. Chris Lackner says:

    I recognized this fascinating story by Mr Loubser, which is essentially his article we printed in our UK Club mag some years ago. Gives a great insight into a great character, and his involvement with Isos.
    In fact, Mike Hailwood owned two Grifos, the first was #081/D, a white 1966 350hp 4 speed car which was owned for many years by one of our members until quite recently.
    The yellow car which he crashed in South Africa was #162/D, a 67 350hp 5 speed. However, it was originally supplied on Borrani wires, clearly visible in a contemporary magazine snippet about Hailwood’s new car. It was also the car that John Bolster tested in the Oct 13 1967 issue of Autosport. He drove it back from the factory on those Italian EE (export) plates which Hailwood seemed to have kept on it for a while, maybe until he shipped it to South Africa. He obviously put the Campagnolos on it some time after he took delivery. So, it is not entirely true to say that the current fitment of Borranis is incorrect.
    It was bought in the early 1970s and shipped back to the UK, tucked away for years and finally sold again in 2009 to the guy who had it restored in Germany. I watched it sell at the Coys Ascot auction in 2011 for £164, 850 – a record for a Grifo back then.

  2. Chris Lackner says:

    I forgot to mention that I believe the car is now owned by Jaguar Cars Ltd. They purchased Dr James Hull’s huge collection of cars which included many important Jaguars.

  3. Andre Loubser says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your report on Mike’s two Isos.

    I had also heard that Jaguar Heritage had bought the Yellow Iso but when I tried to phone the appropriate person the phone was mostly on voice mail.

    Only about two weeks ago i I established contact with Dave Davies who’s in charge of the Dr Hull collection. He did indeed confirm that the Iso was part of the collection and now owned by Jaguar Heritage.

    I hope to be over for the Goodwood Revival Meeting in September and hope to be reunited with ‘my’ Iso. Goose bumps come to mind!

    Good thing I ignored the insurance assessor who said ‘complete write off” and decided to have the car rebuilt in the head office workshop of the Mike Hailwood Autospray System in downtown Johannesburg.

    Best regards,
    Andre .

    • Derek Cowley says:

      Hi Andre,
      Quite by accident, a work colleague showed me this article, which I really enjoyed reading. It sure took me back, not only to these episodes with Mike the Bike and the Springbok Series etc but also to the brief overlap we had with Racecourse Motors, Yamaha & Killarney. Must be more than 40 odd years back.

      Hope you and Gill are well, as are Angela & I. Would be great to catch up.
      Best Wishes
      Derek

  4. I actually met Bud Rossler in 1962 when he worked with my father, Doug Batteson, at Phoenix Colliery near Witbank in South Africa. He came to our house on the mine property a couple of times and even took me and my bro for some spins in his little GSM Dart. Because of this connection my dad obtained grandstand seats at Kyalami race track and we watched Gary Hocking race his last race there.
    I have my story at: http://hamley.blogspot.se/p/remembering-gary-hocking-1937-1962.html

    At that time i never realised Bud had a bro or that he would go so far in life in the racing world!

  5. john hewitt says:

    the white iso is garaged about 3 miles from gaydon museum and is looking very bright and desireable

    and running soundly

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